Super Bowl Champ Helps Fellow UCLA Alum Who Came Back From the Dead

By Frank W. Gillespie | Posted 2 years ago

Former NFL linebacker and special-team star Brendon Ayanbadejo is always working to make a positive impact.


After playing professional football for 10 years, Ayanbadejo is spending the majority of his post-NFL life submerged in the fitness industry, while standing firm on the frontlines of civil rights activism.


Ayanbadejo is a three-time Pro Bowler who hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLVII as a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.


Now, Ayanbadejo is focused on lifting others, including a fellow UCLA alumni who is adjusting to life as an amputee. 


Andru Clarke, former UCLA track athlete and father of three, is the main character in a terrifying cautionary tale about dental care and the potential implications of infection. In 2015, what started out as a toothache, all too quickly morphed into a fight for survival.


“We lived in San Jose, CA at that time,” Clarke recounted to OSDB Sports. “I had a toothache, but we were moving back to San Diego in April and my dentist was located down there, so I waited...too long. When I arrived in San Diego driving the U-Haul towing our family car, I had just packed and unpacked our entire apartment. My back really started to hurt.


“I went to my ortho and he gave me some pills and said to come back in a week if I didn't improve. I went to him again and he said take this and a muscle relaxer, come see me in a week if you aren’t better.


“It was not better, but rather much worse...The ortho was surprised because I was young and athletic, so he ordered an X-ray and then an MRI, which showed a lesion caused by bacteria on my spine. They researched more and determined that my tooth infection had caused endocarditis, and that some flung off pieces had lodged in different places in my body, wreaking havoc at every stop along the way.”


The nightmare was just beginning for Clarke and his family.  


Clarke went through four heart surgeries, a stroke, sepsis, and several amputations. 

The doctors told him he had a 5% chance of surviving on the third of his four surgeries, and less than that on the fourth and final operation.


Andru Clarke was read his last rites before going under. The former UCLA Bruin died on the operating table three times, and clawed his way back to life each and every time. 


“I died a few times, and I either experienced something deeply spiritual or I had some very vivid dreams,” Clarke told OSDB. “There were bright lights, but I assumed that I was reacting to the bright lights of the surgery theater.


“I saw myself on the table, people were busy, couldn't make out faces. Then I dreamt that my wife, kids, brother, mom, and dad were there, along with my best friend and his father. They were out in front of the hospital, where a pop-up night Mercado was going on.


“People came around and were buying things and lighting candles for loved ones, I guess. I remember that the light from all the candles was blinding.


“The next memory/ vision was a shared experience with my older brother Greg. About 25 years earlier, our grandma on my mom's side died. When Greg and I got home from the hospital the day grandma died, we both dreamt that she came, saw us, and said it will be ok and to take care of Mom. When I died on the table, I saw my grandmother again, same as years before, but this time Grandma said that all the family is waiting with her for me, but that I need to raise my babies first. Not yet." 


Clarke had unfinished business in this life, and he returned to his body to begin a long journey on the road to recovery. 


Clarke is 45 now, and does not take that fact for granted. He is finally at home with his wife and daughters again, but faces serious challenges each day as he works his way towards a sense of normalcy.


Clarke is an accountant who has been unable to work for more than two years, yet he has amassed more than $2 million in medical bills. In order for Clarke to get where he needs to with his recovery, funds need to be raised. 


The first step is to generate public awareness for the situation, and Brendon Ayanbadejo has played a huge role in shining light on his predicament in an effort to raise money. No Bruin left behind. #Bruinpride


“It’s been an unfathomable journey for Andru and his family.”, Ayanbadejo stated to OSDB. “It’s inspiring to see how much they love and support each other.” 


Ayanbadejo and Clarke first met on the UCLA campus when they were freshmen. 


“I saw Brendon working out in Bruin Brawn, then later in tutoring, and after we spoke I remember thinking that he was a cool, intelligent athlete,” Clarke recalled to OSDB. “My buddies that played ball with him said he was a good guy. After graduation, we lost touch before getting reacquainted through a mutual friend. We became Facebook friends and stayed in touch.


“Fast forward to me getting sick. Brendon and I kept chatting, and it has grown into a very special relationship. Our families have not met yet, but I’m looking forward to rectifying that ASAP. I definitely consider him a close friend.” 


At present, Clarke goes to physical therapy once or twice per week, is getting familiar with basic arm and leg prosthetics, and is working with a service dog in training. 


“Nalah is a great, smart, kind dog.”, Clarke told OSDB. “She already helps us just with her calming presence.


“It is a long and expensive road, though. It takes at least 18-24 months and 50k to train her properly. Nalah has another three-week session, then probably two more month-long inboards for her to be done, costing about 20-25K.


“When she finishes the training and can open doors, fetch things, and protect my family, that will be one prayer answered. As for the use of my limbs, I am currently working with beginning arm and leg prosthetics. This means a hook for a hand and a leg that my stump slides into. I have a knee that is either locked straight or it is bent, with no myo electrics to bend my knee or manipulate my hand. These prosthetics have been paid for, but when you get fitted they give them to you and you’re on your own. You have to learn how to use them and PT/OT for prosthetics is hard to come by unless you are going to the VA, which I am not. I need a lot more therapy than once or twice a week, to gain ground.”


Clarke has his eyes fixed on the future, where he sees himself walking again, able to pick up his girls and hold them close without fear of dropping them or falling down. Dru envisions a world where he can type anew, so he can return to his accounting business and begin contributing directly to his family’s overall well-being once again.


If you’re interested in joining “Dru’s Crew”, please visit the family’s GoFundMe page. All positive energy and donations are welcome and appreciated. 


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